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TV Tokens

Kids love watching TV. My eldest son could quite happily watch TV all day everyday. And he is not happy with us when we turn it off.

We know that too much screen time is bad for them and we have tried to minimise the amount of time that the TV is on. We have a "no TV after dinner" rule. We occasionally try "no TV" days when we try to fill the day with other activities. But as soon as we put the TV on for "just one" episode of anything, that is it. Tears are guaranteed as soon as we turn it off, even if we play a lot more episodes than the original "just one".

On a bit of a whim, we decided to try and implement a "TV Tokens" system on Sunday. We found 12 buttons, gave six to our son and put the remaining six in a glass jar labeled "bank". Each token is worth 10 minutes of TV time. If he wants to watch more, he needs to help around the house. This could mean tidying up the living room floor, tidying up the kids bedroom floor. He could help us clear the dining table after a meal or help with the laundry. There are plenty of tasks he could get involved with, each one earning another token which could be redeemed for 10 minutes of TV.

This also has a small level of financial education to it. Once the token is spent, it is gone and not all programs are created equal. A 16 minute program will cost two tokens to watch, but an 11 minute program will only cost one token1. He has to decide if he really wants to watch the longer program.

When we first introduced the system, he happily helped us tidy the living room and gained a seventh token. He then proceeded to use all of them up. At this point we were a bit worried that the meltdown would start but it wasn't as bad. He understood that he needed another token and helped clear the table. This proceed till the end of the day, do a bit of work, then watch some TV. He gained an extra couple of tokens for tidying up after dinner and in the living room but was unable to spend them because the "no TV after dinner" rule still applied.

It is early days yet but it seems to be working. Before we were quite arbitrary about when he could and could not watch TV. He had no control. Now he has some level of control.

One of our friends was over this afternoon and saw the TV Tokens in practice. She thought it was a good idea, though not just for the children.

I may owe her husband an apology.

  1. Yes we round to the nearest token. No change given.
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